Hunger in Arizona

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A new report from the Food Research and Action Center indicates that Arizona has the seventh highest percentage of families with children who can’t afford to put food on the table. Cynthia Zwick and Katie Kahle of the Arizona Community Action Association discuss the report’s findings.

Ted Simons: Nearly 30% of Arizona families with children struggle to put food on the table. That's a report by the Food Action and Resource Center. The report is an analysis of gull will you please poll data gathered between 2008 and 2010. Arizona is ranked as the seventh worst state when it comes to food hardships for families with children. Joining me is Cynthia Zwick and Katie Kahle, the group's manager of nutrition. Thank for joining us.
Cynthia Zwick: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Seventh worst in terms of food hardships for families with kids. Food hardship. Define that, what are we talking about?

Cynthia Zwick: The certify asked families if over the last 12 months they have had a difficult time at any point being able to feed their families A. large number of families in Arizona, 30%, said yes, in fact, they had difficulty feeding their families, they couldn't feed their families.

Ted Simons: That particular question was key, was it not?

Katie Kahle: Yes, it's how USDA identifies food insecure households. And we are really concerned about food insecure households with children as well.
Ted Simons: And Arizona - 29%? Closer to 30%. They answered yes to that?

Cynthia Zwick: And it really varies, depending on the area of the state. For example, in Phoenix and this area the number was actually closer to 27%. Up in district 1, the federal congressional districts, the number was actually 36%. It's just a huge number of families that we're seeing that is really food insecure is the other term; just don't have enough money to puffer food to feed their families.

Ted Simons: Has a study been done before, or a similar study done before?

Katie Kahle: Actually FRAC does these studies on a regular basis where they look at census data and Gallup poll data to determine food security in the United States.

Ted Simons: Do we know how Arizona in general, Phoenix and Tucson in particular, how they have trended in the past?

Katie Kahle: Unfortunately, they are getting worse. We have seen the numbers of food insecure household's increase. We have seen an increase in the households participating in SNAP which is the federal name for food stamp program increase. We currently have 1.1 million participants in the state of Arizona. It's much, much larger, it's gotten larger pretty much every month since 2007.

Ted Simons: Some folks want to know who exactly did the study, how the study was done. There was more than this one question, I would imagine, although I'm not sure. And who are the food action resource center?

Katie Kahle: They are a national group of advocates and researchers who study trends having to do with food security related issues. They follow a lot of policy issues out of Washington, D.C., but also help a lot of states with local issues, determining the trends and what's going on with hunger. They looked at the Gallup poll data. The Gallup poll took the information and FRAC analyzed it. They looked at every state and then the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States.

Ted Simons: Sounds like a very big sample. What do we take from this study? Where do we go from here?

Cynthia Zwick: This is more bad news in a long list of bad news items Arizona has recently been receiving. We are the second highest state for poverty level living. Mortgage foreclosures, we heard those are turning around a little bit now. Unemployment rate is still extremely high. What we know is that unfortunately because of the economy here families just are not making it. The unemployment rate, they don't have the jobs, they are unable to get the food to serve their families. What we're really looking at is working to ensure that the funding is at a federal level. All of this funding that provides assistance to families through SNAP and WIC and other food related programs are federally funded. There is the federal deficit and the budget folks will take a look at. But it's essential we maintain programming for these families that are so vulnerable right now, so they can continue to feed their families.

Ted Simons: How much that is funding threatened? Has it been shaved already? Has it been threatened to be cut in the future?

Katie Kahle: The primary threat is block granting. The good news with all this, the programs are set up in a way that they respond almost immediately to changes in the economy. Because the situation changes, the money is available to serve them.

Ted Simons: No limit, right?

Katie Kahle: Essentially no limit. They have never hit a limit before. The big threat coming out now is block granting. Block granting would limit, give a dollar amount it limited the program to that we couldn't exceed. The problem with that is that as times change and more or less people are eligible, it's not responding to the actual need. The WIC program has been cut back a little bit in Arizona, as well.

Cynthia Zwick: The other concern we have about block granting, just conceptually, is the other programs that Arizona receives funding through, we typically get less money than any other state in the country. The formulas are set up that the western states typically receive fewer dollars per capita than other states. We want to really ensure that not only the block grants don't become the rule for the food programs, for the reason that they do limit it. But also so that there's an equitable distribution for families in need.

Ted Simons: There's such a federal component here. You want folks to specifically contact their congressional delegation, and even more specifically Senator Jon Kyl. Why?

Cynthia Zwick: Senator Kyl will be addressing the Resolution of the deficit, no small task. We would like to reach out to him and let him know how important the perhaps are, not only here but across the country.

Ted Simons: Is there a sense that the congressional delegation in general, the state in particular, just everyone involved in the political process and obviously the corporation process, are they not getting it or doing the best they can with what they have got in terms of revenue?

Katie Kahle: That's a good question. I think you find a mix of both. People are frustrated by the perceived inability to turn around the situation. When you see the numbers of people enrolled in the programs and the numbers of people going to food banks going up consistently, while I think our congressional delegation and our local delegation are really feeling like they are doing their best to sort of meet that need, I think they are feeling frustrated by it. It's an opportunity to find some creative solutions. But we need to make sure they don't undermine the need in our communities. When we're looking at 30% of children who don't have food on their table every day, it's not a sacrifice we should be willing to make.

Ted Simons: What are hearing from Food Banks and service agencies right now? Is it bad or what kind of dynamic we got going here?

Cynthia Zwick: The summer tends to be difficult because many of the children in low-income families have an opportunity to take advantage of the school meals program. They often, the food they get is often provided at school, since school is out, or has been out, 17 families have been turning to Food Banks to receive the food they are not able to afford. The need continues to grow and the Food Bank demand continues to grow. In some of the community action agencies that serve low-income families in a variety of ways are able to serve one in 10 of those coming through their doors. That doesn't account for the folks who can't really get an appointment or really even get through the system.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing the same kinds of stories?

Katie Kahle: Even a little further with the Food Banks, donations traditionally are up during the holiday season and during the summer they see a drop in donations. They struggle to meet that need. There is a summer meals program students can take advantage of if it area meets the criteria. In our heat in the summer and the difficulty in some areas with transportation for kids to get where the meals are provided, not as many households take part in that as are eligible for it. The kids don't have a convenient location to go to get that help.

Ted Simons: Is information, knowledge, do some of these families just don't know resources are there for them?

Cynthia Zwick: I think that's a big part of it. They don't know the resources are there. They have never had to seek assistance before, they have been employed. They don't have jobs and don't know how to navigate the system. Once they figure it out, there aren't always resources available.

Ted Simons: Thank you both for joining us.

Katie Kahle: Thank you.

Cynthia Zwick:Executive Director of Arizona Community Action Association, Katie Kahle:Manager of Nutrition Programs at Arizona Community Action Association

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